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January 13, 2009

Bush's Sorry Legacy


I first saw the bumper sticker at some point in 2005, I think. A cryptic message stating "01.20.09," shown on later inspection to be a countdown to the end of President Bush's just-begun second term. Now, it's hard to believe – that date is just a week away.


In his final news conference Monday, the president said goodbye to the press corps that he had held in contempt for years, steadfastly denying that his presidency has diminished America's moral authority in the world. He even did what he had refused to do for the majority of his presidency – admitted to actual mistakes.


And there have been so many. Bush's legacy has many aspects, almost all of them very, very bad. In his eight years in office, Bush presided over the worst domestic terror attack in U.S. history, a hurricane that flooded a major city as the federal government stood idly by, and the worst economic crisis in seven decades. He also launched an ill-fated war under questionable circumstances and instituted torture and other shamefully unconstitutional interrogation programs.


But that's not all! There's also the estrangement from the rest of the world, the failure to find Osama Bin Laden or lift a finger in regard to global warming, the explosion in the deficit and national debt, the full-throated embrace of know-nothing hackery and rejection of intellectualism and Bush's destruction of the conservative Republican brand for the foreseeable future.


Sure, the right can cry "Bush Derangement Syndrome!" at any and all criticism of a president whose approval rating hasn't exceeded 30 percent in years – as though liberals who considered Bush a nightmare from the very beginning hadn't been proven totally prescient and totally right. America has given its verdict on the Bush years – two straight Democratic electoral landslides, leading to the election to the presidency of Bush's ideological opposite.


Some honest conservatives acknowledge the damage Bush has done, to their cause and to the country itself, and have done what they can to address the damage and move forward. Others have tried to argue that Bush was never a conservative after all, while others still say he didn't go nearly far enough.


Others still pretend that Bush will somehow be vindicated by history, that events of the future will see him as some sort of visionary who somehow knew best when no one else did. As though historians will someday determine that torturing detainees was the right move after all, or that the “Mission Accomplished” banner was a good idea, or that the federal government really had no business sending help to New Orleans.


More likely, history will make the Bush-Cheney years look even worse in retrospect, as more and more revelations trickle out and a more complete picture emerges of all the disastrous executive decisions made in the last eight years. Jane Mayer's amazing history The Dark Side has shed considerable light on the establishment of the torture regime. Wait until 10 more books like it appear, looking at other aspects of the administration's political and moral failures.


Does Bush deserve any praise? Some. He refused to join the hysterical anti-immigration crusade of his party's base, and while it came years too late, the surge in Iraq appears to have largely succeeded. And yes, Bush has succeeded in preventing any further terror attacks since Sept. 11 – although he also didn't prevent 9/11 itself.


Whether its foreign policy or domestic policy, the Bush-Cheney Administration has failed on virtually every level, and it's almost impossible to imagine history will render a verdict much different from that.


© 2009 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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